October 31, 2016 | JOHN RAY
“Our self-righteousness does not turn God from us, but us from God. It is not my sin that moves me
away from God, it is my refusal of grace, both for myself and for others.” James Bryan Smith
My first real heartbreak — I mean a real full-on, nothing-is-ever-going-to-be-the-same-so-why-go-on-living heartbreak — happened when I was in my early twenties. The girl had moved to Europe, and just flat moved on. I was left with a Grand Canyon-sized hole in my life. I remember sobbing while my mom held me (yeah, it was that bad: a twenty-something crying on his mom’s shoulder) and saying it hurt so much because it didn’t just happen: I had chosen to love her, I wanted to love her. But her heart turned cold against me.
These kinds of relationship breaks bring a special brand of misery, a deeper-than-flesh way of experiencing pain. They totally disorient us. But they can also teach us the necessity and essential nature of being in “right relationship” with others, with ourselves and ultimately with God. And what does it mean to be “right” with God? To be in a living, growing, honest, tangible relationship with God?
On Sunday night I took issue with “penal substitutionary atonement,” which is a high-dollar term for a very common way of understanding how it’s possible for us to be “acceptable” to God (i.e. saved). It’s kind of a Law and Order approach, and in a way, it’s true. But it really doesn’t get to the heart of things. By itself, I think it does much more harm than good. In fact, it becomes toxic when it’s considered as exclusive and apart from the context built around it in the Bible and by believers throughout history.
> Heart Transplant. Scripture gives us a powerful word picture to help us understand what brings us into a right relationship with God: being given a “new heart.” That’s the promise God made long ago to the people of Israel through the prophet Ezekiel: “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh.”
This foreshadows what Jesus taught about being “born again” and is complementary to what Paul talks about when he describes being a “new creation” in Christ. Read the following chapter from The Cross and Covenant by Dr. Larry Shelton. (Click here.)
> Practice. We can’t give ourselves a “new heart.” It’s not something we can beg, borrow or steal. It’s a gift, period. So what are we to do if we feel stone cold-hearted? Like so many things we will come to understand about following Jesus, getting a new heart is both an all-of-a-sudden event and a lifelong process of learning, nurturing and strengthening. Paul encourages the process of growing into our new hearts when he instructs us, “Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Also, when he encourages us to think deeply about “whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy...” Make time this week to cultivate these practices, based on Paul’s teaching.
> With the Family. “Turn that off.” “Put that down.” “Stop being so (mean, selfish, rude, whatever).” How many times a day do these directions come out of our mouths? Don’t think any parent ever enjoys giving such scolding instructions, but it seems inevitable; like it’s our duty, an occupational obligation. When our imagination about God is formed in moral or legal terms, no wonder we become weighed down under the expectations we assume God has for our behavior. Take a few minutes to watch this clip from Greg Boyd. (Click to start playing.)
> Prayer. Abba, thank you for giving me a new heart, for the sacrifice it took for me to have it. May I learn to love the things that You love, to delight in things are true and beautiful, noble and worthy of praise. May my new heart break with the things that break Your heart. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
> Rhythm. Keep up the practice we started last week: Take five deep breaths, then slowly repeat the Lord’s prayer, followed by five more deep breaths. Try to do this as early as you can after you wake up, although it’s okay if it doesn’t happen until a break in the morning, like after the kids are in school. Also, sit quietly and listen to this as part of your prayer time.
> Resources. Want to know more about prayer? Get ideas on what to do next? Pick up A Guidebook to Prayer: 24
Ways to Walk With God by Mary Kay Morse. If you are looking for something that works on a totally different level,
give the Pulitzer prize-winning Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.